Fear of failure is a great motivator but if allowed to it can develop a life of its own and trigger anxiety. The mantra of ‘success’ has become so pervasive that it is easy to forget that accepting and living with ‘failure’ is an essential life-skill.

Added to this, ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are relative terms. Once you start to measure success in narrow terms (winning, for example), you can become overly judgemental and self-critical, which allows anxiety into the frame.

Aim for consistency, not perfection

Being aware of the possibility of failure – and even planning for a worst-case scenario – shouldn’t mean worrying obsessively about losing out. It can help you avoid the side-effect of anxiety-producing ‘failure phobia’ that can result from a constant drive to succeed.

Life these days can become so focused on success and achievement it is easy to forget that failure in some things is inevitable. These are usually inconsequential; little mistakes, missing a bus, being a little late for an appointment, forgetting small things, occasional difficulty concentrating, etc etc.

These unimportant ‘fails’ are valuable. Recognising and accepting at them as inevitable part of life is a way of keeping a balanced perspective, which is mentally healthy. You might think that a minor ‘failure’ like missing a bus can’t be compared with a major mishap like, say, losing out on an important business deal or failing an exam, but you’d be wrong. Little failures teach us a lot. They help with mental conditioning and developing resilience.

The rationale is that by recognising and familiarising oneself with the ups-and-downs of life by reviewing what I’m calling ‘failures’ helps with acceptance and removes the stigma (at a cognitive level), from the idea of not succeeding. Fear (of failure) fuels worry and anxiety. Realising that failure is inevitable can help to attenuate the fear, thus diminishing its power.

People who have achieved greatness in their field understand this. They know about fear of failure but they don’t let it define their actions. Most writers are used to having their work rejected, scientists struggle with failed research and dead-ends, and inventors try out ideas that go nowhere. Edison reputedly said “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps. Great success is built on failure, frustration, even catastrophe.”

The trick to avoiding anxiety caused by fear of failure is to accept and ignore it and to move ahead anyway, despite worries and setbacks. Being aware of and avoiding mistakes is a great motivator, but pushed too far it can become an obstacle.